Fashion Advice from Obama? Yes! Capsule Wardrobe 101

I’ve been hearing about all kinds of way to minimize your wardrobe. There are people out there whom I really respect, all promoting a certain way to dress - and organize your closet. I have a fashion-designer friend who has given me advice, I am a Minimalist groupie, a Konmari enthusiast, and I know about Project 333 and the Dallas mother who blogs and brags about her limited clothing.

But I can’t seem to get minimal enough for my own satisfaction. Even though I’m a professional organizer, I still feel like I have the proverbial “nothing to wear” problem. (And yes, that is probably related to my sense of style - or lack thereof…, perhaps? I’ve been in either flip flops or cowboy boots for about 20+ years.)

So, I’m going to take a cue from Obama and Steve Jobs. (What? With regards to fashion? What is the connection…?) They both work from capsule wardrobes. As told to Vanity Fair, Obama states:

"You'll see I wear only gray or blue suits," Obama said. "I'm trying to pare down decisions. I don't want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make."

What is a capsule wardrobe anyways? Generally speaking, a capsule wardrobe should consist of a small number of key clothing pieces that express your style, are adjusted to your lifestyle and the season. These are the foundational items in your wardrobe, from which you can mix and match other pieces, with confidence that the end result will turn out well. Capsule sizes vary between people, but typically 20-40 core pieces is a good start.

So here is what I’ve learned about capsule wardrobes:

1. Create Your Style. This is hard for me, I’ll admit. Am I a professional? A mother? A wanna-be Bohemian? A suburban cowgirl?

So here’s what you do: collect images of looks you like - use pinterest, catalogs, magazines, etc. Then, list all the common themes you see: specific items, colors, trends, fabrics, combinations of items. It’s also suggested that you organize your inspirational pictures by season.

Next, pick a ‘uniform’ or an outfit formula, a specific combination of items that you can see actually see yourself wearing with a few tweaks here and there. You may even subconsciously have a uniform, if you tend to wear the same combination of shirt/pants, etc. [In all honesty, as of this blog post, I haven’t finished my new capsule project well enough to share, but here is one that I really enjoyed reading.]


INTO MIND seems to be referred to as the authority on capsule-building. Here is a standard women's uniform suggested on their site:

Uniform: Slim jeans + Long-sleeved shirt + Short jacket + Ankle boots.


  • uniform + non-boot flats

  • long-sleeved shirt + skirt

  • slim jeans + non-fitted knit shirts


  • lots of white

  • main neutral color: black

  • other colors: grey, pink, red, denim shirt, navy, light blue

  • leather jackets

  • loafers

  • cropped jackets

  • light denim jeans


2. Build Your Structure. Write down every item category you need for each of the variations you have chosen. In the example above, the categories would be slim jeans, long sleeved shirt, cropped jackets, ankle boots, flats, skirt, non-fitted knit shirts. Now, estimate how many items you need per category. You want between 20-40 pieces, though you can adjust later. Try to allocate about 50% of the total number of pieces to your "uniform" categories, the remaining can be split up among the variations.

Think about how often you actually wear an item (a skirt, for example.) If you only wear a skirt every few weeks, then you probably need just one. But if jeans are a part of your uniform, you’ll need more than one pair.

3. Start creating your wardrobe. Now that you have a basic template, it’s time to go through your closet and pick our the clothes that fit the visual style you want and the structure of your categories. See what you already own that fits into your new capsule, and then determine what you may need, based on your inspirational photos. (Cue: This is a good time to declutter what doesn’t fit in your new capsule! )

4. Create a working list. [List making is always fun for my personality type. And of course, I like to use Evernote for such lists, especially because I can include photos.] Jot down all the capsule wardrobe items, including things that need to be repaired, purchased or bought. When you are ready to shop, make sure you go for quality over trendy, mass-marketed pieces from large chain stores. (YES, I’m talking to myself.) Since you know exactly how many items you want to purchase this season - from this working wardrobe list - you can budget accordingly.

5. Organize Your Closet. Once you have all your pieces together, organize them.

Set up your closet in a way that fits the structure of your capsule wardrobe. (You can sort by color or category - there is more than one way.)

Put your uniform pieces in an easy-to-reach place. (Think: eye-level, top-drawers, etc.)

If you have that time, jot down a few of your favorite looks and snap a photo (save in Evernote like I did here) to help you on those early mornings when decisions seem tough.


Lastly... a few other things I’ve learned along this journey:

Less is More. With less clothes in my closet, I have less decisions to make everyday. And with a few cornerstone pieces of clothing that I can build outfits from, I actually have more choices that are obvious when I open those closet doors.

Create seasonal capsules. This does not mean go out and buy brand new core pieces every season. This means that you should ‘adjust’ your wardrobe for various temperatures and perhaps mix up the color palette, too.

Balance colors. Create a balance of neutrals and bright colors; and basics/uniform pieces with those colors. For small categories like shoes, make sure you have a good proportion of neutral shoes to offset the proportion of brightly colored tops, for example.

Cleanliness is next to Holiness. Don’t forget about the laundry requirements of every item category. The same pair of shoes can be worn multiple times each week, but just one or two shirts won’t get you too far.

I'd love to hear about your capsule wardrobe ideas, too! Leave me a comment on Facebook.

#capsulewardrobe #fashion #closet

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